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12 March 2015

Chuka Umunna on Nigel Farage: “The mask slips to reveal something that is pretty nasty“

As the election gets closer, Nigel Farage is showing his true face - and Labour must call it for what it is, says Chuka Umunna.

By Stephen Bush

Unless you’re Dermot Murnaghan, Chuka Umunna doesn’t get angry. Unsurprisingly considering his background – he worked as a solicitor at Herbert Smith and Rochman Landau before becoming an MP – he slowly and calmly assembles a case.

And the charge sheet against Ukip and Nigel Farage – back in the headlines after calling for the repeal of all racial discrimination laws – is getting longer.

“What have we seen over the last 18 months?” Umunna asks, “We’ve seen the party [Ukip] adopt the old slogan of the BNP. We’ve heard him [Nigel Farage] stating that he feels awkward on the train in the company of people speaking other languages. We’ve seen him get stuck in a traffic jam and immediately seeking to blame immigrants for that.”

He pauses. “So it’s not all surprising that given his form he doesn’t see the need for racial equality legislation in our country.”  As the campaign wears on, Umunna argues, “more and more of the mask slips to reveal something that is pretty nasty. And all that’s happened in the last 24 hours is that the mask has slipped even more. This isn’t a picture of somebody who to use their slogan, loves Britain, this is somebody who thoroughly dislikes what modern Britain is.”

But it’s a challenge for Labour, too, says the man who many regard as one of Ed Miliband’s best weapons in the fight to return to power after just one term in opposition. “Those of us who would rather that people voted for other parties – our own party – need to make that argument on its own merits. We need to say that we in the Labour Party believe in all the people in this country, we don’t believe in privatising the NHS or tax cuts targeted [only] at the very rich. And that’s not something that Ukip can say.”

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“But, he adds, “Equally, it is beholden on us to draw attention to what Ukip are offering, which is also pretty unattractive. It’s very important we call out any Ukip candidate who says things like this.”

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In their short time in the limelight, Ukip candidates have made the offensive seem ordinary, from the councillor who believes that equal marriage causes flooding to the activist who suggested that Lenny Henry should go and live “in a black country”, and Umunna says, we “price it in”.

“There is a virus of racism running through that party,” Umunna argues, “And they don’t appear capable of rooting it as they don’t understand the problem.”

It’s not just abstract for Umunna, whose father, Bennett, arrived in Britain from Nigeria without a penny to his name before going onto become a successful businessman. “The things they say about Eastern Europeans now,” he tells me, “are no different from the things people used to say about black and Asian immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“These [Eastern Europeans] are people who contribute to our economy and our society,” Umunna says “ They’re the target of choice now, but Ukip’ll move onto another target.”

“We act as if it’s acceptable,” Umunna tells me. “And it’s not. It stands against our British values of fair play and respect for one another. And we have to call it out for what it is.”